MSDS to SDS: Prepping for the Change without a Chemistry Degree

As a maintenance worker, you may come into contact with potentially hazardous chemicals on a routine basis. Regardless whether these substances are pressurized gases, flammable liquids, or simple cleaning products, you need to know how to handle them properly.

Safe usage procedures are integral to being able to perform your job, and fortunately, you can master them even without a chemistry degree. Here’s everything you need to know about the standards that matter.

Keeping Up with the Chemistry

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, regularly publishes updated Hazard Communication Standards, or HazComs (another acronym for you), so that you know how to use, store and process chemicals. Although HazComs once revolved around documents known as Material Safety Data Sheets, or MSDS , these have been phased out in favor of the Safety Data Sheet, or SDS.

This transition doesn’t just affect workers and businesses in the United States. The move is part of a United Nations-backed, global initiative known as the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, or GHS.

Safe Usage Procedures Are Integral to Being Able to Perform Your Job

Enough acronyms for you yet? At this point, you may feel like you’re swimming in acronyms that only make things more complicated. The most important factor to remember is that the U.S. has officially been moving from the old MSDS standard to internationally acceptable SDS documentation since March 26, 2012. According to the law, manufacturers should have the new SDS format available by June 1, 2015. Our customers should begin using and training employees on these labels June 1, 2015 to December 2015 and should have fully implemented these changes by June 1, 2016.

How is the New Documentation Different?

In essence, MSDS and SDS documentation serve the exact same function; they’re designed to help end users and maintenance staff understand the dangers of common actions they might perform with chemical products. As such, data sheets include compound-specific info, like exposure health risks, potential environmental interactions, flammability, and acute toxicity.

One unique aspect of the newer GHS data sheets is that they include more detailed, information-rich labels. If you take the time to examine different products and their associated documentation, you’ll instantly notice that warning labels only employ a limited number of symbols and statement phrases; these are all standardized by GHS, and it may help to learn the language so that you can understand them.

Why Should I Care?

True, your company has little to do with the labeling or manufacturing of the chemicals you use, but according to GHS standards, you must:

  •  Train employees about specific hazards and precautions associated with chemicals.
  • Establish and maintain a hazard communication program that discusses safe handling practices.  
  • Keep a written inventory of all hazard chemicals your employees are exposed to.  
  •  Post updated labels and warning signage so that people are aware of chemical risks. 


The new Safety Data Sheets represent more than just a name change or the chance for regulators to bog you down with documentation that doesn’t exactly make for thrilling reading. OSHA’s new Hazard Communication Standard program lays out a pretty clear guide to how to keep your staff and patrons safer.

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